A review of Monocle

Update: Monocle ten years on in 2017

Monocle Issue 1 spine

The PR team were at pains to point out that Monocle wasn’t just another Wallpaper. Brûlé’s first venture into magazine publishing, and arguably a highly successful one, was to be distanced from his latest effort. Nevertheless, it would be churlish not to draw comparisons between the two; both aimed at a comfortably affluent, educated and high spending audience; a broadly similar advertiser profile; the same slight tinge of pretension.

Style

In saying all this, though, Monocle does differentiate itself from Wallpaper — and primarily in the mode of content. Wallpapers of today are slimmer than their dotcom boom siblings — I’ve got a copy from 2001 lying around which thumps on the desk at a shade under 300 pages — and Monocle is clearly contender for this heavyweight throne of yore. At 242 pages, plus a manga supplement, and with less advertising and substantially more text than its flightier cousin, Monocle simply appears more serious.

Its seriousness, though, may well end up being its downfall. The readers of magCulture’s review are put off by what they perceive to be stuffiness:

My original impression was that Monocle seemed to ask and assume a lot about the reader. It looks like hard work. The lack of bold headlines and weighty standfirsts gives the impression of a series of rather dry essays. It seemed rather reader ‘un-friendly’.

Michael Bojkowski

The formal style, staid layout and straight-laced editorial stance set it clearly apart from the style magazine stable, and I’d go with Andrew Losowsky and compare it to the Economist — an sort of weekend Economist, in jeans, a shirt and a jumper, just popping out for lunch.

To follow the Huffington Post’s comment:

Wallpaper could legitimately have been described as ‘style with substance’; Monocole is the inversion, arguably well summed-up as ’substance with style’.

Monocle Issue 1 Coop sources

Design

Despite the rigid layout, Monocle really triumphs in its ability to engage. Columns are perfectly sized; pull quotes are neat and intrude just enough to catch your eye; fonts are comfy and well spaced. The infographics are subtly superb, and I’m particularly interested to see how they evolve over the coming issues.

It’s authoritative in the same way as a good newspaper, and certainly has more in common in terms of layout with the new-look Guardian and the Times 2 than any of its magazine siblings.

Monocle Issue 1 business class comparison

Content

The text was mixed — Japanese navy piece pretty good, not a stunning launch opener, but a good story nonetheless; business class flights comparison was great; interview with Lego guy very flat, and Chile’s finance minister neither explained nor interesting.

— Andrew Losowsky

The quality of the writing is generally very high, and apart from a few amusing Grauniadisms, so is the editing. The Japanese piece was insightful and compassionate; the article about Chinese aid in Africa very much in the Economist vein, and the Bartenbach LichtLabor case study much more Wallpapery, but nevertheless welcome.

On the ‘fun’ side, the Inventory section is brilliant — again, much more Saturday supplement than Wallpaper’s occasionally junky selection, and nicely global in reach. The fashion pages, as you might expect from a strict-columned, serif-fonted publication, are predictably dry, but they have the fortunate consequence of showing off things which I suspect readers might actually buy.

The balance in terms of interest lies nicely between work and play — and while, as I say above, the tone is generally formal, the nature of the content itself means that the overall impression given is one of gravitas rather than dullardry.

Monocle Issue 1 Dubai filmmaking

Website

Monocle’s website is, unfortunately, a bit of a disappointment. In an odd echo of the magazine’s brazen dotcom-era confidence, the website is decidedly 1999. Yes, there are videos, which in fact are pretty good; Dan Hill, the director of web and broadcast, explains some of the detail on his blog.

The disappointment is the lack of prose. Again, drawing the unavoidable comparison, Wallpaper has begun to make some of its textual content available on the web, in neatly RSS-subscribable form, free of charge. Monocle offers very little in the way of text — and I know that there’s a strategy at play here, differentiating the physical magazine and its online counterpart, but in fact what I want from a magazine website is to be able to say ‘I found this great article in Monocle the other week; here’s a link to it.’ I can’t do that with the Monocle site. In fact, I can’t interact with it very much at all; I can’t comment on anything, and there isn’t a feed or an email subscription option to keep me in the loop.

Price

It’s a fiver — more than you pay for its contemporaries, but arguably it’s a different breed of magazine. I suspect that the audience won’t care. The current web content doesn’t justify an extra £25 a year, but I’m hopeful that it’ll improve.

To conclude

Monocle is innovative, and yet deeply conservative. In fact, it’s almost surprising no-one’s tried it before. Still, there’s no question that Brûlé is to be congratulated. Monocle lives up to the hype — a stylish, intellectual magazine, which is a pleasure to read.

Monocle Issue 1 cover


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